Leukaemia: I felt like I was having a bad dream

Ryan Family

Jack (first from left) and his family today

Jack Ryan’s mum Miranda recounts when her seven-year-old child was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

A few days before Christmas in 2007 our eldest child, Jack, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. He had just had his seventh birthday. Of course we were utterly unprepared for this horrendous news which was even more overwhelming because we lived 2000 km from Brisbane on our beef cattle property, Ballynure.

My three children and I were Christmas shopping in Cairns, a seven hour drive from our property, when I decided to take Jack to a local GP. He had not been feeling well, and on that particular day his legs had become so painful that he couldn’t walk.

Leaving home

Within two hours a blood test confirmed that Jack had leukaemia and we were getting ready to fly to Brisbane the next day to begin treatment. We did not return to Ballynure for 11 months.

My husband George wasn’t able to leave the station immediately due to a broken pump which needed to be fixed to water our cattle.  He ended up driving to Brisbane the following morning, non-stop.

The experience was overwhelming and I still remember feeling like I was having a bad dream as our oncologist in Brisbane explained how Jack would be treated.

Jack and his younger siblings, five-year-old Ben and two-year-old Amy, had never stayed in a big city like Brisbane. It was such a contrast to home where the closest shop and school are three hours drive away and our nearest bitumen road two hours.

Within a few weeks of arriving in Brisbane we were fortunate to be provided with a large modern unit at the Clem Jones Sunland Leukaemia Village. It was a 30 minute drive from the hospital and we did this journey every single day for 11 months (in traffic!), but it was such a welcome respite to have a safe, comfortable place to live which was provided free of charge for our entire stay. I don’t know what we would have done without the Leukaemia Foundation. They do such an amazing job and we will forever be indebted to them.

Jack Ryan's acute lymphoblastic leukaemia story
Jack and his family during treatment

With George having to stay at Ballynure to look after the station, we really appreciated the village’s community atmosphere and the safe haven it provided. We were surrounded by people who understood what we were going through and the staff went out of their way to care for us in all sorts of practical ways.

After many ups and downs with treatment along the way, Jack was finally allowed to return home at the end of 2008.  It wasn’t the end of his overall recovery but it was the end of the Brisbane part of it.  For the next two and a half years until May 2011, Jack had oral chemo every day as well as visiting Brisbane for lumbar punctures/chemo/check-ups on a semi-regular basis and also having blood tests and chemo in Townsville every few weeks. Townsville is over 400km each way from our home.  I can’t begin to remember the sheer number of hours travelling in the car for Jack’s appointments – it must literally be thousands.

The Leukaemia Foundation in Townsville would always give us a free entry card for the Reef HQ Aquarium in Townsville and Jack looked forward to regular visits to see the amazing underwater world of coral and fish housed there.

Jack’s life after treatment

Although Jack got through all of his treatment and is truly well, his immunity and platelet levels never fully returned to normal. So even today, nearly eight years since he started on this journey, he still has regular blood tests and visits to the specialist in Townsville. We are such regular visitors that we have made close friendships with his wonderful nurses and specialists who are such a delight and always make him feel very special!

Miranda and Jack Ryan

Miranda and Jack today

Jack continued his primary education at home, via the Charters Towers School of Distance Education. He had missed so much of grade three that we repeated that year. In 2013 he began life as a boarding student at the Cathedral School in Townsville. Three years on Jack is now 14 and in grade nine. He plays guitar and rugby, swims and makes the most of the opportunities of being part of a larger school in town.

Of course he misses the property constantly and at every long weekend and holiday is eager to come home and spend time with his dogs, go out on the motorbike, work in the yards and with his dad out on the station. He is a typical teenager, loves to have his friends to stay. They go off camping and exploring in the bush, cooking on open fires and just enjoying being outdoors.

Although it has been so many years since all of this started, it never leaves you and I will always be in fear that the cancer may return one day. However, it is no use dwelling on it and we are thankful to have got through to this stage and “touch wood” he will always stay well.

I will never forget the 11 months we stayed in Brisbane and how the Leukaemia Foundation of Queensland gave us a safe haven and surrounded us with kindness and support through such a frightening ordeal. We will be forever grateful.

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